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2013-02-12

Paraguay on the verge of an energy crisis

By Hugo Barrios for Infosurhoy.com – 12/02/2013

High temperatures have caused massive power outages, as the government calls for the rational and efficient use of energy.

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Consumers interested in saving energy and money spurred sales of energy-saving bulbs at Óscar Recalde’s store in San Lorenzo by 50% since October 2012. (Hugo Barrios for Infosurhoy.com)

Consumers interested in saving energy and money spurred sales of energy-saving bulbs at Óscar Recalde’s store in San Lorenzo by 50% since October 2012. (Hugo Barrios for Infosurhoy.com)

ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – Paraguay is on the verge of an energy crisis.

Due to the spike in demand stemming from temperatures in excess of 30º C (86º F), Paraguay’s National Electricity Administration (ANDE) may reach its consumption limit during the next two months, according to Dec. 17 statements made by Carlos Heisele, the head of ANDE.

“The country’s electricity system is unreliable and the current situation is critical. If we reach peak consumption in February and March, there will be a collapse, resulting in chaos throughout the country,” Heisele said during a press conference.

In December 2012, power outages multiplied nationwide, particularly in the capital of Asunción and its metropolitan area, which is home to about 2.5 million, according to the Department of Statistics, Surveys and Censuses (DGEEC).

On Dec. 10, ANDE registered record levels of energy demand, which reached 2,384 MW. ANDE has the capacity to deliver up to 2,400 MW.

ANDE has asked Paraguayan citizens to reduce energy consumption during peak hours from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., which is the hottest time of the day, and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., which is when people come home from work.

“What we’re asking is that residents try to consume electricity outside these peak hours. We’re not asking them to stop using electricity,” said Anastasio González, a technician from the ANDE Electricity Loss Management Division.

González pointed out the importance of energy-saving light bulbs, which consume up to 80% less electricity. He also asked residents to exercise caution when using electrical appliances.

“On average, people open their refrigerator door about 50 times a day out of habit. It should only be opened in order to take out food. It’s also important to try to iron more than one article of clothing each time the iron is turned on,” he said.

Óscar Recalde, 45, who owns an appliance store in San Lorenzo, located about 12 kilometers from Asunción, said the sale of energy-saving lamps had increased 50% since October.

Recalde said lamps can last up to eight years and are sold at his store for $15,000 to $30,000 Paraguayan guaraníes (US$3.62 to US$7.25). An incandescent bulb costs about $4,000 guaraníes (US$0.97), but lasts, on average, only three months.

Aware of the dangers of a possible energy shortage, Raquel Estigarribia, a 28-year-old who works for a textile company in San Lorenzo, purchased four energy-saving bulbs for four rooms in her house.

“It’s hard to resort to austerity measures, given we have one of the largest hydroelectric plants in the world,” she said. “There were days in December and January when we had two or three power outages, each lasting up to five hours.”

High temperatures

Despite the high temperatures, Joel Ibáñez, head of the Major Client Contracts Division at ANDE, said air conditioners are not the only cause of the high levels of energy consumption.

“The population is expanding and this increasingly requires the use of more appliances, such as refrigerators, TVs and fans,” he said.

Illegal connections to the power grid in many of the country’s low-income settlements also have led to power outages, according to Ibáñez.

“ANDE loses about 40% to illegal connections, which translates into about US$40 million a year,” Ibáñez said. “ANDE could go and cut off the service in these areas, but it would set off a major crisis.”

Solutions

Ibáñez pointed out the main problem is not the shortage of electricity but the lack of an efficient transmission system. However, he said the installation and operation of a 500 kV transmission line, which is set to occur in April, will prevent power outages.

The new transmission line will require a total investment of US$381 million and allow for an increase in energy distribution throughout the country, Itaipú officials said. The energy crisis also has led to the introduction of alternative power generation systems.

At Energía Alternativa, requests to replace electrical generation systems with solar systems have increased 10% in the past six months, according to Ariel Levin, the company’s CEO.

“The main product we offer for power outages is UPS Solar, which features solar panels that generate electricity that is subsequently stored in special batteries that can power equipment such as fans, lighting and computers, in the event of a power outage,” Levin said.

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